Thursday, August 11, 2011

THE WANDERING COLUMN

Last Wednesday brought the normal time for printing of my cycling column in the local newspaper, The Waynesville Mountaineer. I had submitted it on time and knew that it had been received. The on-line edition came out and no cycling column was to be found. I braced myself for the onslaught of questions…

Where is it? What happened? Aren’t you writing anymore? Truth be told, I don’t recall a single question being asked regarding the missing column. Of course, I had the pre-publication knowledge that the Sports Editor has decided to run it on Fridays instead of Wednesdays.

I think that is a good thing as the Friday paper is loaded with upcoming stories and previews of the BIG sport – HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL! (I am a product of that culture and still recall the immensity of winning and losing to the community.) So, hey, lots of folks will be reading the sports page that day and maybe, just maybe, they’ll take a few moments to absorb a few words on cycling!

Of course, a move from Wednesday means that the big shoppers looking for weekend grocery specials may just miss my 500 words that day. I’m not really sure how many coupon cutters jumped over to the sports page anyway. We’ll see if there is any notable change in comments.

For those so interested, here are the bits and bytes of my latest column…

FOR EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON

Five hundred words, five zero zero, the limit of words for this column. It seems too small sometimes when trying to write about what is, in essence, a cultural change. Yet, because of its limit, a writer is forced to be concise and to find that balance between getting the point across and holding the reader’s attention.

This past week really brought home to me how far we’ve come as a society in again appreciating the simple beauty of the bicycle. The past week has also made me aware again of just far we have to go before a cultural change occurs where we, as a people, slow down, and take account of how we treat each other when some of our values aren’t the same.

On Saturday, we had a wonderful time at Waynesville’s Historic Farmers’ Market. Our Haywood County Bike Plan booth was in full swing with many visits from local residents, part time residents, and visitors to the area. Folks were genuinely enthused about the possibilities of safer and improved bike routes and facilities for Haywood County. Unsurprisingly, the most common concern voiced was feeling safe on the roads and feeling respected by the motorists, who share the roadways. Those who stopped by our booth to fill out the Haywood County Bike Plan study spoke of how they would like to be able to ride to the Farmers’ Market and other businesses to make their purchases and get exercise at the same time. They also spoke of the need for bike racks and other infrastructure needs to make cycling easier for them.

On the other hand, this past week also saw me involved in discussions where the cultural attitude that bikes don’t belong on the highways was equally evident. The holders of these views, all honorable and good people, simply hold a value that if a cyclist gets run over, it is their own fault for being on the road. Rather than having a value that goes something like this, “I drive my vehicle at all times as if, just around the next curve, there is a child in the road, a pedestrian walking, or a cyclist making their way home from work.”, the held value was “if I hit you, it’s your fault.”

This isn’t a unique value to Haywood County. It is, in fact, a widely held value across our country. Only in pockets of our country such as Davis California or Portland Oregon or Madison Wisconsin, has a true cultural change taken place where bicycles and pedestrians are valued as equal travelers upon the roads. Make no mistake though, the culture is changing. It is changing for the better. More and more citizens are finding alternatives to $3.78 a gallon of gasoline while Exxon pockets a 41% increase in profits.

Cultural change takes time. I remember when it used to be acceptable to drive drunk in this county. Soon, I hope the majority value will be “SHARE THE ROAD!”

 

Other tidbits…

We’re down to 1 week before the 2nd annual Blue Ridge Breakaway. The final meeting to cover loose ends is in the morning. We hope to be hosting around 500 cyclists on Saturday, August 20th! It isn’t too late to register if you’re looking for a great ride in some beautiful Southern Appalachian mountains!

Until later,

- Zeke

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